Thieves Guild Show at the Phoenix Gallery

finished_on_car

 

Come and see some of my art in person!

I have two pieces that will be part of an art show at the Phoenix Gallery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. The exhibit is a showcase of work from the Thieves Guild, who run themed figure drawing nights each month here in Lawrence. There will be drawings and finished pieces by over a dozen of the regulars including a lot of my very talented friends.  The work is all based on art created or inspired by our drawing sessions over the last year and a half.

There will be an opening as part of the Final Fridays Art Walk this Friday, the 27th of June, starting at 6pm at the Phoenix Gallery on Massachusetts Street. If you can’t make it to opening night, no worries, the show will be on display through the month of July.

While you are there, keep an eye out for my pirate lady sculpture and this portrait of our model from 80’s night. I will post a bit more about the process of making these, but don’t miss out on seeing them in person.

matthewcook_80sGirl

Artist Coins

For the longest time I’ve wanted to buy a button make. You know, the kind that makes the little plastic disks with a picture in them and a safety pin on the back. The problem is that button makers are very expensive. Not just kind of expensive or expensive for craft supplies expensive. I mean insanely, ridiculouslly, choose which of your organs you can do without so you can sell it on the black market to make a down payment expensive. Life isn’t fair.

So instead I’ve been looking for alternatives, and last month I came across this article over at Kimanh le Roux’s blog scissors.paper.wok about making custom buttons (the shirt kind) using shrink plastic. Genius!

You might remember shrink plastic from your youth when they were called “Shrinky Dinks”. We used them in art class a few times when I was younger but I’d forgotten all about them. I scoured my local craft stores but it turns out it’s hard to find sheets of the stuff that don’t already have patterns printed on them (*sigh*). Persistence payed off however and I’m now the proud owner of 12 sheets.

Some things work better on the plastic than others. When I was little I used acrylic paint which was a bad idea. When the plastic shrunk the paint squished and bubbled up and then kind of burned in the oven. Kimanh uses marking pens on her’s and they seem to work well but I wanted something I could make a rendering with. A friend told me that when she did shrinky dinks as a kid they used colored pencils and crayons because the wax base melts along with the plastic making a durable bond. On that advice I decided to use one of the col-erase pencils I use for animation and drawing. These are basically erasable colored pencils with very hard leads.

Here’s what I came up with:

We got dogs, toasters, teeth in jars, a bunny, a button, a skull, Mattie Ross from True Grit (I love that movie), all kinds of great stuff. Sorry about the cat hairs in the picture, they’re everywhere!

One side of the plastic is super smooth but the back side has some tooth to it, and it takes the pencil marks really well. All of my designs are in pencil except for the teeny-tiny elephant in the top left corner, which is ink. The biggest one there is about 1.8 in in diameter.

Oh, a side note. Remember you are basically drawing on the back so you have to do things in reverse. You can see I forgot this on some of them . . . because I’m dumb.

Next cut everything out (I just used scissors) and bake it. Here’s before:

And here’s after:

 

They shrink A-LOT! The package says 45%, and that’s probably accurate but until you see it it doesn’t really hit home.

If you’ve never done it before it’s a very quick process. It only takes about 3 minutes at 350ºF. While they bake the plastic will bend and curl up on itself and you’ll think “OH NO, IT’S RUINED! ALL MY HARD WORK. CURSES!!” but don’t worry. Just let them keep cooking and they’ll lay back down. You know they’re done when they all lie flat again.

I put mine on oven parchment to make sure they didn’t get stuck to the baking sheet, but as you can see the parchment curled a little in the oven. I think next time I’ll try tinfoil instead.

Here’s my finished coins:

Aren’t they cute!

The biggest one is now just larger than a US penny. The elephant is super tiny, about 0.5 cm across. When the plastic shrinks it also thickens to about the width of a penny. The artwork is on the back and the front side is shiny smooth so it gives the image a really nifty inset look like it’s behind glass.

You can also see that the density of the shading is greater. The darks are much blacker. I’m happy to report that the Col-erase pencil seems pretty stable after baking. It doesn’t smudge or scratch off the back at all, though I think I may paint the backs with a little clear nail polish or something to protect them.

I’m really happy with the results. These feel a little more special and versatile than the pen-buttons I was trying to replace. I can make them any size and shape, and they don’t have to have pin-backs if I don’t want. That’s why I’m calling them coins instead.

Now you try!

Corduroy Penguin Plushie

I’ve always thought that corduroy would be an interesting material to make into a stuffed animal, but for some reason the fabric stores around here never seem to carry it. Then about a month ago I was going through the remnants bin and I found a big piece of gorgeous dark brown GIANT CORDUROY! Well the piece wasn’t that big, but the whales (that’s what they call the ridged, isn’t that cute!) were HUGE.

Turns out it’s upholstery fabric which I’d never thought to look through before. Needless to say I swiped it up to make something out of.

It’s Spring here in Kansas, and Spring always gets me kind of depressed because it’s the start of things getting warm and then hot and then really hot and then really really bug infested-ly hot. I’m a cold weather kind of person, and corduroy is a cold weather kind of fabric, so I decided to make a penguin.

Here are some of my design sketches:

I wanted something a little unique looking so I decided on a sort of flat top approach. After a few weekends of sewing here’s how things turned out.

 

Her (I think it’s a her) scarf is a left over piece of that red wool felt I made my Mario Hat out of, and her white parts are wool quilt batting used as fabric. The beak and feat are bits of dyed quilting cotton. I stuffed her with a mixture of polyfill and about 4 cups of rice to give her some weight. I made sure to get some down in each flipper/wing before I sewed them off so they would have weight at their ends.

Here are some more glamor shots:

 

 

If you have any naming suggestions, leave a comment. I love to hear from you.

Cotton Wool Maquette Sculpture

Back at the end of September I read an interesting blog post by Dragan Bibin about his maquette making technique. Rather than clay Bibin uses cotton wool soaked in acrylic gesso to make a sort of cotton-mache sculpture. You can see examples of his models and the resulting illustrations in his original post.

I’ve been dying to try this ever since. I decided to give it a try with my little snooty slug, one of the orphan characters from this week’s photoshop painting experiment (bottom row, third from the left) . Here’s how things went:

Bibin says that he starts with a aluminum wire armature. I generally use steal wire for my armatures because it tends to be much cheaper. I’ve got a few spools of it in my maquette kit at different strengths. This base is made from 16 gauge wire, about the thickness of a wire coat hanger. This stuff is pretty stiff so it makes a good base but I generally have to bend it with pliers.

Just like a clay maquette Bibin uses foil to bulk up the model before any real material is added, so I did the same. I do the same thing for my clay maquettes. I’ve also wrapped things in a bit of 24 gauge wire to hold the foil and base armature together.

Alright, here’s where things start to diverge from what I usually do with clay. Bibin explains that the cotton and gesso need something other than metal to adhere to, so he wraps his armature in masking tape. I used drafting tape, same difference.

So I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard the term “cotton wool” before I came across Bibin’s post. From what I can tell it’s just the British name for what cotton balls and loose medical cotton dressings are made of, which I kind of like because I don’t seem to have a good word for it other than “cotton”. The important thing I think is that you’re using cotton that hasn’t been woven or spun into anything yet.

To begin the sculpture I painted a bit of gesso I’d watered down to about white-glue consistency onto the armature, then painted a bit onto a strip of the cotton, then stuck one on the other, and then painted more gesso on until everything was soaked. Then repeat.

Incidentally, if you’re following along at home might I make 3 suggestions. First, disposable gloves make this much easier and more fun. Second, have a jar of water handy to put your brush down in. If you let the gesso dry in the bristles of the brush its ruined. Third, spread a sheet of foil down on your work surface. This will keep gesso off your “clean” art table, and it won’t stick to the model while it’s drying.  After about 30 min here’s what I had:

At first the process was a bit slow. Looking back I should have added quite a bit more foil to bulk things up before I started. Having a thick layer of the cotton wasn’t a big problem, but it took a while to build it up.

After the first layer I left the model out to dry over night. The next morning the surface was generally dry but I could still feel some moisture from the inside from all that building up. It’s probably trapped in there forever now but I’m not worried. Up until this point I’d only been adding layers to the surface but now it was time to start adding features. I started with my slug’s posh lower lip.

The features that don’t have some sort of structure under them are a bit fragile when things are still wet, just like clay would be, but once things dry the model seems very durable. After adding the lip I took a break to let things dry but I really think I could have continued working just fine as long as I was careful.

On the next round I added a chin fold under the lip, and then in one last round I added eye lids and protuberances.

Bibin says in his blog post that once dry you can sand the surface. I gave this a try with a small rasp. The sanding is good for removing some of the larger bumps and uneven areas on the surface but unless you’re working with some sort of power tool I wouldn’t expect to use sanding to make a lot of detail. I did quite a bit of sanding on the model in the image just above but I doubt you can really tell the difference in the surface compared to the image before. You’re better of smoothing things out with your fingers and extra gesso while the model is still wet.

My model is still drying but once it has I’m planning to add a bit of paint to finish things off.

Compared to modeling in clay this method does not offer nearly as much chance for detail, but because you can do it with gesso and cotton balls I think it’s probably a bit more economical. I don’t really think things went any faster than they might have with clay, but if I were building a large roughed in model for reference photos or the like I would certainly choose this over the clay, and I wouldn’t feel bad about tossing it afterwords. Both this technique and clay are about equal when it comes to mess and cleanup.

Happy Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday, bar none. It’s at the perfect time of year and it’s all about acting nowhere near your own age.

I don’t usually get to dress up for the occasion but I’ve been very in to sewing things lately, and a few months ago I came across this stylish pattern for a Mario Chapeau.

It’s based on a pattern by Amberlee of Giver’s Log who made a whole set of these for her son’s birthday party back in March (lucky kid!). You can read all about the festivities and get the pattern from her blog. I had to size the pattern up a bit to fit my giant mellon of course, and I went ahead and added some elastic to the band to help keep it on snug. I also went a little more home-made on my Mario ‘M’, which is why it’s a little off center in my version.

This is now the 3rd hat I’ve ever made and the first one that really fits well.

I hope you’re all having a great Halloween as well.  If you’re festivites are feeling a little lacking then might I suggest the Retro Cocktail Hour’s Halloween Bash, that’s where I found out about my new favorite Halloween song of all time:

Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood
by Don Hinson and the The Rigamorticians

I wish I could find a full version to point you at, but the Amazon sample will have to do for now.

Happy Halloween everybody.

Pixar Pins

Ever since I saw Up last summer I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a nifty badge out of a bottle cap. After a few false starts here’s what I came up with. I found a local supplier who sells bottle cap blanks, and then découpaged the designs on the top.

pixar pin

The Holiday Gift Exchange

I’m made up some holiday cards to send out to friends this year. These are my patented limited-edition collectors’ vintage one-of-a-kind letter-press hand-made eco-friendly fully-sustainable partially-synthetic future-proof vertically-integrated non-denominational woodpulp-containing buzzword-compatible messages of holiday joy (rocket ship included).

Western Book Structures

Along with the Japanese structures, in book making class this summer we also explored some western methods.  This is a case bound sketchbook. Follow the picture above for a few more angles.

The book block in this structure consists of a number of signatures or gatherings of pages folded in half, in this case 11 of them containing 2 sheets each.  It’s hard to find sketchbooks with thick velvety paper so I decided to go all out on this one and use a grey Rives BFK, a cotton based print making paper that feels more like cloth than paper.

The gatherings are stacked, and then sewn onto tapes—ribbon like stripes of linen which give the book its structure. This design allows the book to be strong, even with a large number of pages, and still able to open flatly.

The term “case-bound” refers to the cover, which is constructed from thick chipboard, here covered with backed fabric.  I found these great prints in a local quilting supply store.  The front side has a bright strip, this red flower pattern, while the back has some colorful stripes.

I also had the chance to hand sew the headbands for this book.  Headbands are those little stripped bits of embroidery at the head and foot of the spine, just inside the cover.  In the past they added strength to what is an often manhandled part of the book, but today they are often simply decorative items.  Usually they are machine sewn onto tapes and pasted in, but these headbands are hand stitched and extend down into the sewing stations on the spine.

Japanese Book Structures

I just finished a fascinating class on paper making and book structures, and I hope to be posting some pictures of some of my final projects over the next few days.  To begin with, here are a few glamor shots of a small Japanese 4-hole style stab bound sketchbook, along with a few of the sewing models. Follow the picture above to some other images.

Each of these sewings is based on 4 simple holes stabbed through the book block (hence the name).  In Japanese this method is called yotsume toji (四つ目綴じ).  The pattern used on the final book is called the tortoise shell.  The design is based on Kōjirō Ikegami’s book Japanese Book Binding.  Although it looks very strong, this treatment is basically decorative.  The pages themselves are held together by other means.  In fact, it is common practice for these bindings and decorative covers to be cut off of old books and replaced regularly as they wear out.  Because the covers are soft the book is fairly floppy, and this is a must because the binding is ridged, and does not allow the book to lay flat.

The pages of the book are separate leaves like in a western style book, however, they are folded at the fore-edge, making each page double thickness.  This allows a blotter sheet to be slipped between pages while writing in ink to prevent bleed through.  Clever, don’t you think?

I used basic sumi-style rice-paper for the book block, and decorative printed paper for the covers.  You’ll also notice some red coloring on the head and tail of the spine.  These are small squares of backed fabric folded over the corners for added strength.

Experiments in Needle Felting

3-needle-felting-examples

Needle felting is a technique where raw wool fibers are teased together using a special barbed needle.  After a while the fibers tangle into a solid mass and form felt.  By starting with a basic wad of wool and applying the needle in some areas more than others you can make interesting sculptural shapes.  

These three fellows are my first attempts at the process. 

Coptic Bookbinding

One of my favorite things about going to art school is being exposed to techniques I would never otherwise know how to approach. A perfect example is bookmaking. About two years ago, a project for our two-dimensional design class was to create a book.  At the time, we learned about the different parts of the book, how to make a clothbound cover, and a number of different binding techniques. In the end I designed my project after the large folio envelopes they use in our art library to collect loose leaf artwork, and so at the time I didn’t get a chance to try out any of the binding techniques, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while.

With some time this summer, I decided I’d give the project another go. As a gift, I wanted to make a writing journal, and so I did a little research to find out what sort of binding might be best.  I wanted something that would allow the pages of the book to lie flat so it would be easy to write or draw on them, like the spiral binding of the sketchbook, but also something that would look a little more elegant. I finally settled on a version of Coptic binding. Here you can see the results.

This being a writing journal, I found some appropriate fabric, and made the covers by wrapping two pieces of chipboard cut to size. The inner covers are treated with some simple patterned paper to give a finished edge to the fabric wrap. There are actually two sets of binding stitches here. The first is a basic Coptic stitch which runs through the two outermost holes and the center hole. For this I used some basic bookbinding thread. The second binding is a two needle affair, and runs in two sets, one above and one below the center hole.

There are quite a few tutorials of simple Coptic stitching on the internet, but the more complex two-needle work was harder to come by. The best resource I found was a series of books by Keith Smith on Non-Adhesive Book Binding.

Now that I’ve had a little practice with this technique, I’m eager to try it again. When complete the book lays very flat, and is easy to write in, so I think this may be a great candidate for a homemade sketchbook.